Misconception- a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding. 

Music is often experienced as a group in concerts, places of worship, and in the classroom as a complement to learning.  So why when many people think of music lessons, images of just two people, the teacher and student, come to mind?  Does learning have to take place exclusively in a one-on-one student and teacher format?  

Let’s take a few minutes to rule out four misconceptions about group music lessons.  Give this a good read, then share your thoughts on the matter.   Will you see things differently after reading this article?  Is there a misconception you’d like to discuss or add?  Comment below! 

Misconception #1

Children will learn faster in private music lessons because private lessons are superior to group music lessons.

If we go back to the days of queens and kings, history shows us that piano lessons were taught privately. We’re talking about the sons and daughters of royalty here.  The mere mortal common folks didn’t own instruments.  Instrument ownership was reserved for the wealthy and well-to-do.  (Not a whole lot has changed in that aspect, but I digress.)

Take a look at today.  There are many other artistic and athletic activities that are traditionally taught in a group format.  Soccer or theater would look pretty odd if you tried to do them with only the teacher and the student.  Here’s a gymnastics example:  Simone Biles.  This Four Time Olympic Gold Medalist spent the majority of her time working on teams.   One of those gold medals was won, in part, as a team effort.  She didn’t win those gold medals all by herself.  Of course, Biles is the one who showed up for training and performed the routines, but her peers and instructors had a hand in her success as well.

Can you think of something else that’s been done for centuries in group format?  Did you just think of dance?  Dance was originally learned in tribal and cultural settings in peer and mixed peer groups.  Hmm, I wonder if music lessons could be taught in peer and mixed peer groups?

Music instruction is one of those rare education genres that believes private lessons are better than group lessons.  The suggestion of such sprang purely from a financial and cultural necessity to separate the social classes and not because effective education called for it. 

Today’s “normal” doesn’t have to be based solely on yesterday’s classicism.  Playing and creating music is much more accessible today than it was a few hundred years ago, wouldn’t you agree?  Financial barriers can also be lifted.  For example, we actively work with The MusicLink Foundation to help ensure that music lessons are within everyone’s reach. 

It has been my experience that well-taught group lessons are a more effective means of teaching. Students progress faster (friendly competition), have more fun (increased personal joy), and develop more independence (positive peer pressure to succeed) in group lessons.

Misconception #2
Better students will not be able to progress at their own pace because they will be held back by the other students.

Again, leaning on my own experience, when I first began teaching elementary music in Dallas public school in 2000, I had absolutely no idea I’d be serving children in classes with between 7-50+ kids.  Now you know these kids are real live breathing and feeling people, right?  I had to find a way to measure and assess everyone’s progress and check on their learning, both as individuals and as a group- in 45 minutes or less, or die trying.  Let’s face it- kids can sometimes be a tough crowd.  They will certainly let you know if they are not feeling what’s on the day’s agenda!

Whether serving one child or 1,000 children, what remains paramount is this:  Comfort in learning is more important than the pace of what’s being taught.  Yes, the speed of instruction is an important factor in learning, but if a student isn’t comfortable not only with me as their instructor, but more importantly with themselves, then this two-way street just reached a dead end.  Building self-esteem through self-expression shores up the foundation of solid learning and peer support.

Musicianship and technique over everything.  We can sing and play all day long and have tons of songs to perform.  In order to perform repertoire correctly, you gotta have the skills to pay the bills.  The pace of learning skills is fairly universal.  However, the use of these skills is individual. 

Take a minute and digest those two previous sentences or let me make it a bit more plain for your right here:  We’re all learning the same things at the same time in the beginning.  Those “in the beginning” elements do not change.  The only independent factor is the student. 

Letting that student know that you care about them more than you care about the music helps the student to be just vulnerable enough that they are willing trust you with calculated risks you challenge them with as growing musicians.  They’ll learn more. They’ll do more.  They’ll go where you lead them.  They’ll also bring their peers along too!

For example, if I teach a piece that uses all 5 fingers of the hand, there will be some students who will fly like a whipping wind, while others will play more slowly and methodically, like a gentle breeze.  How fast a student progresses is primarily determined by the quality of their practice (often done during the group lesson) and their innate determination to nail a particular set of skills. 

There is structured time during group lessons for monitored independent practice as well as collaborative time.  The monitored independent practice uses routine and repetition that builds retention.  The retention transfers to collaborative time and drives the individual to make the group better. 

Misconception #3

Private lesson time is more valuable than group time. 

Time is a valuable commodity that you cannot get back.  A lot of time can be wasted in private lessons if a student arrives and has not practiced for progress or has little to no intrinsic motivation to breakthrough challenges or increase improvement.  That time will now likely be spent using extrinsic motivation (i.e. stickers) to get the student to do the things they could’ve done outside of lesson time.  This stalls advancement and growth as a musician.   We practice for progress, not necessarily perfection.

What’s missing from the private lesson is the ability to observe the learning process.  When I make a correction to fingering (knowing which finger to use when) for example, during a private lesson, the student is forced to concentrate on the correction and then demonstrate the correction at the lesson.  The student’s attention is more on the doing of the task than it is on the concrete learning of the skill.  Sure, the student may have fixed their fingering, but did they retain that information in a meaningful way so that the error is less likely to occur?

During group music lessons, students have the opportunity to observe the teaching process, which then helps them to become their own mini music boss of themselves and an encouraging coach for their peers. If they are watching the music or following the lyrics while listening to another student sing or play, they begin to internalize the process in the same fashion as a teacher would.  They become independent learners who will take charge of their own learning by recreating the teaching process on their own, for themselves, and for their peers.  Self-correction and peer correction runs abundant and the music experience is the better for it.

Misconception #4

Effective technique cannot be taught in a group lesson setting because each student needs individual attention.

Poppycock!  Imagine teaching lip rolls to a private voice student.  Lip rolls are a quick, effective, and gentle way to warm up the voice without exerting the elements of the body used for singing.  I’d start by explaining what a lip roll is, their purpose, demonstrate, and then have the student make several attempts at doing lip rolls. 

It may take a student a few minutes or a few months to get the mechanics of doing lip rolls down.  The private voice student is seeing just one example of lip rolls when I demonstrate versus being in a group class of peers who are all trying to learn the same concept.  One student may perform lip rolls using their hands on their cheeks and pulling down, another student may use the fingers of one hand to pull the cheeks up, another student may not use hands or fingers at all to perform lip rolls. 

The finding here is that there are several ways to achieve the same results.  Everyone performed lip rolls.  Those students in the group lesson will have learned to do what works best for them while gaining new perspective on achieving the goal of performing lip rolls.

This is where the super power of the group music lesson kicks in.  The class listens as each student is being guided to success.  Not only are the students learning how to fix their own mistakes, they are learning other principles of technique they may not have otherwise been able to consider because the opportunity to observe others doing the same thing cannot present itself in this manner during a private lesson.

Who Should Receive Private Lessons?

If you’ve read thus far and thought that I don’t believe anyone should have private lessons, know that that’s not my belief at all.  The point of this writing is to dispel some of the myths associated with group music lessons.  Here are several reasons why you (or your child) actually should have private music lessons.  

  • Exceptional abilities in coordination skills
  • Consistently practice one to two hours daily
  • Desire matches the need to play piano or sing at the exclusion of other activities
  • Personal preference to private lessons over group lessons 

If a student exhibits one or all of these qualities, private lessons might be necessary.

About the Author

Takenya Battle is the Chief Treble Maker in Charge at Kenya’s Keys.  She is a Texas certified music instructor who lovingly worked in the Dallas ISD for 14 years as an elementary music teacher.  As a music instructor in Dallas, Takenya helped to develop the music curriculum and shaped instruction for the Dallas school district.  Takenya is a proud Rattler and cum laude graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, FL and holds a B.S. in Music Education, with emphasis on Classical Voice and Classical Piano.  

Before separating from the United States Army Reserves after almost 10 years of service, Takenya earned a Master Certificate in Music Production and Technology from Berklee College of Music Online.  Mrs. Battle has maintained an active presence as a music performer, arranger, producer, and church musician for the better part of 25 years.